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Orange roughy and other catch limit cuts welcome

Wellington – Tuesday 25 September 2007

Orange roughy and other fish catch limits cuts welcomed

The Environment and Conservation Organisations (ECO) today welcomed the decision by the Minister of Fisheries, Hon Jim Anderton, to close another orange roughy fishery and cut the catch limits for a range of seriously over-fished fish stocks.

ECO co-chairperson and fishery specialist, Barry Weeber, said “the decision to close the West Coast South Island orange roughy fishery recognised the that the stock was badly overfished to the point of acute fragility. It is dangerous to overfish such low productivity long-lived species – and we lose economically too. The Minister has done the right thing.

Mr Weeber said the substantial cut to the northern orange roughy stock was well overdue. “The Minister’s previous action to better manage this fishery has been hampered by legal action by some orange roughy fishing companies. ECO hopes that the industry would take a more responsible approach and not challenge this decision.”

“The history of orange roughy fishing in New Zealand (and internationally) has been to severely over-fish populations and take corrective too late.” Mr Weeber said some scientists now doubt whether orange roughy fisheries are sustainable in the long term.

“The Chatham Rise fishery was lauded internationally as a sustainable fishery but mounting evidence has shown that not to be the case. Last year’s fish stock assessment highlighted the problems with this fishery.”

“The cuts to the hoki quota are an important move but will not be enough to protect the hoki fishery unless action is taken to protect juvenile hoki. Over the last three years the industry has been catching large numbers of juvenile fish on the West Coast of South Island and on the Chatham Rise. This is shortsighted, and is like eating far too many of the ewe lambs instead of leaving them to become parents in the future.”

Mr Weeber said given the vulnerable state of this fishery it is essential that areas where large numbers of young fish are caught are closed to fishing. “This is likely to involve further cuts in catches.”

The cuts to catch limits for the long-lived oreos, and red cod, flat fish and eels were also welcomed by ECO.

Mr Weeber said ECO applauded the decision not to increase the catches for squid around New Zealand. “More research is needed into squid stocks and the bycatch of seabirds and seals.”

“ECO hoped for action to protect the animal communities on the seafloor from the impacts of bottom trawling and to stop the fishing effort just shifting to over fishing somewhere else.”

Mr Weeber commended the decision of the Minister to increase deemed values. “The big increases in fisheries like West Coast North Island snapper should help to bring catches back within quota limits.”

For further information contact: Barry Weeber 04-389-1696 or 021-738-807.

1. ECO – the Environment and Conservation Organisations was established in 1972 and represents 62 groups with a concern for the environment.

2. Orange roughy are long-lived and have a maximum age of 120-130 years. They do not mature until they are around 30 years old.

3. Oreos are made up of three species (black, smooth and spiky) which are all long-lived – maximum ages of 153 years for black and 86 years for smooth.

3. Orange roughy and oreos are caught using the controversial method of bottom trawling which also destroys any corals, sponges and other three dimensional sea life on the bottom. Some of these coral removed have been aged at over 500 years old.

4. Whether orange roughy fisheries are sustainable in the long term has yet to be determined. “They have low levels of sustainable yields, are vulnerable to overfishing, and have slow recovery rates” (Clark M (2001) Are deepwater fisheries sustainable? – the example of orange roughy (Hoplostethus atlanticus) in New Zealand. Fisheries Research 51 (2001) 123-135.). The Australian Minister for the Environment added orange roughy as an endangered species under the Australian Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999_. (See http://www.deh.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/nominations/orange-roughy-listing.html).

5. There is poor reporting of bycatch species which are not of commercial interest. The reporting by industry vessels of corals brought up in the nets show very low rates of corals brought up. This is inconsistent with reporting in observed fisheries (Anderson O F and Clark M R (2003). Analysis of bycatch in the fishery for orange roughy, Holplostethus atlanticus, on the South Tasman Rise. Marine and Freshwater Research 2003, 54, 643-652.) and some of the early reports in this fishery. Unless there are independent observers on vessels the reports are unreliable and not to be trusted.

6. The Orange roughy northern fishery (ORH1) Adaptive Management Programme (AMP) catch limits and area controls has been exceeded over several years:
Misreporting of catches from areas and features. We note the Ministry of Fisheries’ prosecution against one quota holder and one vessel master and that the permit holder pleaded guilty to some of the misreporting charges. This involves about 180 tonnes of misreported catch which is a very significant amount in this fishery.
Area limits and feature limits have been exceeded on numerous instances in this AMP. The Area A limit of 200 tonnes was exceeded in the last three fishing years and Area D limit of 200 tonnes was exceeded in 2001-02.
The 30 t limit for the Mercury-Colville features has been exceeded in three of the last four years including a catch of 64 tonnes in 2004-05. In part this included bycatch in the cardinal fish fishery.
Monthly reporting has not met the requirements of the AMP MOU and industry undertakings.

7. The legal minimum for orange roughy stocks is 30 percent of the unfished stock size:
North-west Chatham Rise: There was a new assessment for 2006 which indicates that the fishery is overfished with the best estimate of the current biomass being 11% of the unfished population size.
North-east Chatham Rise hills: There was a new assessment for 2006 with indicated the fishery is overfished with the best estimate of the current biomass being 14% of the unfished population size.
South Chatham Rise: The assessment was not updated by earlier assessment modelled the population at about 24% of the unfished size.

8. Hoki: Juvenile fish caught in the hoki fishery has been a source of concern. The commentary in the Plenary report (Ministry of Fisheries 2007):
“The percentage of young fish (those aged 3 or less) by number in the West Coast South Island (WCSI) catch was 35%: lower than in 2004–05 (when 52% of the fish were 3 or younger) but still much higher than in any other previous year (previous maximum of 20% in 1994–95). Small hoki were caught in all areas of the WCSI fishery, both inside and outside the 25 n. mile line, and about 20% of the catch was fish less than 60 cm.
Note: hoki start maturing when 3-5 years old for males and 4-7 years for females. Hoki has a maximum age of 20-25 years.

In the Chatham Rise hoki fishery:
“The Chatham Rise catch was dominated by small hoki from the 2000–04 year-classes, with few larger, older fish caught; 27% of the catch by numbers was less than 60 cm, and 43% was between 60 and 70 cm.”

Fishing increases unseen mortality or damage on small fish as they pass through hoki nets and are killed or injured. This was noted in the Plenary Report as an additional problem affecting juvenile fish in the fishery.

The change in sex ratio and the loss of older fish in the fishery:
Approximately equal numbers of males and female hoki were caught in 2005–06, but there has been an increasing sex bias in the catch from the WCSI at older ages. The observed proportion of males for fish aged 7 and older has declined from about 0.4 in the late 1980s to less than 0.2 in the last three years.”

This year’s stock assessment has further areas of concern:
For the western stock, median estimates of current biomass are between 15 and 24 %B0, (95% confidence intervals for each run are given in Table 15), which is below the assumed value of BMSY (30-40%B0). The biomass has shown little change in recent years.


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